The world woke up today to another round of rest-day intrigue that made headlines outside of cycling, a romp that technically began Monday night in America where a no-nonsense judge in Texas threw out of his court what we all knew was nothing but another serving of spin-doctored public-relations tripe issued by Ego Armstrong. It continued today with a revised complaint being resubmitted to the same court for consideration.
Two related stories were the arrest of Remy di Gregorio and two other conspirators as the culmination of a year-long investigation by the French authorities (with the incredibly long acronym), and the hoopla surrounding the lifetime bans issued to Armstrong’s U.S. Postal personnel Michele Ferrari, Luis Garcia del Moral, and Pepi Marti.
While everyone is buzzing about the Lance business, in my mind the most important action was the effort by USADA to ban Ferrari, del Moral, and Marti.
We complain about how prevalent doping is, and how riders have access to the product and the experts to assist them in the usage of said products. The fact that these three support personnel received lifetime bans indicates the beginning of a shift away from the athlete who is busted for doping and towards those who provide the means to do so. If those three individuals weren’t involved with the sport, or had been prevented from being involved in the sport, would doping be as prevalent in cycling?
Which brings up another interesting point – the lack of response from those in Aigle. Where was the press release from the UCI applauding the efforts of USADA in issuing the lifetime bans for these three? Where was the press release of support for the French authorities in catching “the cheats,” as Pat McQuaid is so fond of saying in his UCI-TV soundbites? Where was the press release stating the UCI’s position on a United States federal judge throwing out Armstrong’s petition for an injunction and restraining order?
If the organisation actually lived up to the hype that they create, and if those in power within the organisation truly “walked the walk,” they would be absolutely one hundred percent behind the efforts of the French authorities and USADA. However, their silence speaks volumes as to the politics that emanate from the centre of the cycling empire. And it’s that silence which gives clean cyclists and clean coaches pause from being outspoken in support of changing the culture in cycling. It’s why people like yours truly receive email confessionals and whispered Twitter direct messages – because everyone involved is afraid of being exposed, and thus, losing their livelihood.
This brings us full circle back to Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel. What if, by some stretch of the imagination, these two are mere pawns in the aforementioned game that comes from the fine land of chocolate and precision timepieces? What if all these pawn moves are being pushed by those players behind the scenes who wield the real power? What if Armstrong has no choice but to make the statements and the moves he is making? Sure, he doesn’t like to lose, but Armstrong also knows when not to take on a challenge that he feels he can’t win. Why do you think Armstrong didn’t ride the classics season, or ride the Giro d’Italia until the last year of his career? He is a master at evaluating his best use of resources to maximum effect. He is a brilliant tactician. How is it that a brilliant tactician is all of a sudden making such massive mistakes?
The analysis of the situation is that Armstrong is protecting more than himself. He is protecting others who have managed to stay completely out of the limelight and who continue to pull his strings in order to protect their current tenuous position. The silence from Aigle is an indicator. Just because there is an absence of something doesn’t necessarily mean something isn’t there or that it doesn’t exist.
As @dimspace demonstrated in his phenomenal project, the business ties to Lance are deep and far-reaching. There are documented links to a variety of power brokers in cycling – in a business sense, ranging from members of USA Cycling board of directors, to announcers on NBC, to ex-teammates and support personnel, and others. However one name that continues to plague the sport as a perverse version of Keyser Soze is the one name that always seems to escape direct scrutiny and direct links.
Many of us have done the research. We’ve found shell companies associated with Verbruggen. We’ve had those in cycling’s inner sanctums whisper the level of influence Verbruggen exerts not only in cycling (i.e., China expansion) but also in SportAccord as well as with the IOC. However, like the notorious Keyser Soze of The Usual Suspects, he’s but a whisper to tell your grandchildren to keep them in line and following the unwritten cycling rules.
It’s no coincidence the EPO-fueled era coincided with the rise of Verbruggen to the power seat in the sport. Lest we forget Verbruggen was the man who ran Graeme Obree out of cycling for refusing to follow the “rules” of professional cycling. This is the man who attempted to purchased the Tour de France with a few partners, including one Lance Armstrong. This is the president of the UCI who accepted a donation from an athlete in the form of a six-figure chunk of change which allegedly turned into a Sysmex machine. This is also the man who still actively meets with many of the power brokers in the sport, including Jonathan Vaughters.
You see, the trouble is, if Lance fights this on USADA turf, it has the potential to expose Verbruggen in a very public manner. Frankly, this is something no one wants to have happen, including current UCI president Pat McQuaid. Verbruggen’s name would come up frequently in the testimony of several individuals who are whispered to be witnesses beyond the “fingered five.” Verbruggen has publicly stated Armstrong is “like a son to him” and Verbruggen is the father figure Lance never had. Powerful. Influential. Wealthy.
He’s also been referred to as “evil” by many individuals behind the scenes, and many individuals have faced his wrath for attempting to expose his dealings. Vaughters received emails of rebuke from Verbruggen in the notorious “nom de plume idiot” email saga of last year. Verbruggen attempted to make the “peace” on race radios between McQuaid and Vaughters like cycling’s version of the mafia don. Verbruggen filed a lawsuit against Paul Kimmage under the guise of the UCI for “damaging the reputation of the sport and the UCI.”
I’ve been in receipt of many emails that document Verbruggen’s tactics and comments to many, many people in cycling. Emails that demonstrate a pattern of behaviour, but not necessarily anything illegal. Ethically wrong? Yes. Illegal? No. One of the favourites was an email sent to a Spanish journalist after he wrote a piece on Verbruggen. The fact that Verbruggen felt the piece, which had been fully-vetted by the newspaper’s editorial team, painted him in an unfavourable light caused him to say the following to the scribe:
As an academic, such unfounded claims of conflicts of interest without any proof, based solely on rumours, show a profound lack of professionalism on your part. Having never met you personally, your accusations are defamatory and I would warn you to exercise restraint and journalistic professionalism in your research prior to publishing further such claims.”
Sound like someone else we know?
So before you place the blame for this situation solely at the feet of Lance Armstrong and the other five gentlemen at the centre of the firestorm, or vilify Remy di Gregorio for yielding to temptation and picking up the phone to acquire doping products, think about the one man who has been the architect of the entire situation since 1992. He is one man who has single-handedly manipulated the situation for his sole financial benefit and the benefit of his inner circle of followers and business associates. The man who is always missing from the direct line of fire, but always somehow continues to pop up in the strangest places at the strangest times for the strangest reasons.
Don’t blame Lance. Don’t blame the support staff that have been allowed to operate. Blame the man who allowed, and in fact “allegedly” encouraged, it all to take place, and continues to control the situation today by calling in his marker with Lance to keep him out of the limelight. Blame the Keyser Soze of cycling.
Blame Hein Verbruggen.